Older Europeans are terrified of the Mediterranean’s changing climate

Southern Europe has been hit by unusually warm conditions in recent weeks, with droughts in Italy and Spain, wildfires in Cyprus and the Acropolis in Athens forced to close due to unsafe temperatures.

A number of Telegraph readers have responded to articles about climate change in the Mediterranean. Some say the climate has changed, but wonder whether the changes are man-made or part of a natural cycle. Others question the data, arguing that the weather in Europe has changed little over the years. Hot summers, droughts and wildfires, they argue, have always been part of the climate in southern Europe.

We interviewed five octogenarians living in Mediterranean countries to ask about their personal experiences with Europe’s changing climate over their lifetime.

“I’m afraid for my children and their children”

89-year-old Giorgos Milonakis grew up in the mountain village of Ziros, on the Greek island of Crete

'We've had bad years before, but I can't remember it being this bad': Giorgos Milonakis

‘We’ve had bad years before, but I can’t remember it being this bad’: Giorgos Milonakis

“When I was a boy, just after the great war, we knew what the seasons would be like. We harvested our olives in early spring and our grapes in September to make wine and raki.

“We had long, dry summers. We could go out and have fun, and we knew that the rains would come in the fall. Last year it was so hot that we had no grapes at all, and because of the heat and the terrible wind we had very little olives or olive oil. As for the rain, some years it doesn’t come at all, or it rains so hard that entire cities melt into mud and water.

“Of course, we’ve had bad years before, but I don’t remember it being this bad. We’re afraid of fires now. We used to party all summer and cook meat on barbecues. Now barbecues are not allowed in the warm season and we’re careful with fireworks or devices that make sparks.

“But it’s also strange that it’s often cold at night, while it’s so warm during the day – maybe that’s why we have so much wind. We also have these big clouds – I can’t remember that. They settle on the mountains at night, it looks like the mountain is in a piece of cotton.

“When I watch television, I wish you a lot of fun! (Mother of God!) – now it’s all about the weather: storms, floods, people dying from the heat. They say here in Greece that we are in trouble because of this climate change. Ten years ago I would have laughed, but now I sometimes fear for my children and their children.”

Cretan Giorgos Milonakis says extreme weather conditions are affecting the way of life on his native islandCretan Giorgos Milonakis says extreme weather conditions are affecting the way of life on his native island

Cretan Giorgos Milonakis says extreme weather conditions are affecting life on his native island – alamy

Interviewed by Heidi Fuller-Love

“Now we see huge hailstones of half a kilo”

92-year-old Gino Cetrini lives on Lake Orta in the northern Italian lake district with his 85-year-old wife Elisa

“When I moved from Le Marche to Lake Orta in the 1960s, I remember that it rained day and night. In the summer it rained; in the spring it rained; in the autumn it rained; although the winters were quite dry, with little snow.

“But in 2022 and 2023, it all seemed to change. Last summer, the water level of Lake Maggiore dropped so much that boats could no longer sail safely – and the same was true of the River Po. The drought was terrible. This year is more like the 1960s, although the weather patterns are more extreme.

“Now we have torrential rains – it’s raining like crazy, with six months to a year’s worth of rain coming down in just two days. And all that water has nowhere to go. Our infrastructure – our bridges, riverbanks – can’t cope. In Emilia-Romagna there were floods again a few days ago. When it rains that hard, it’s a real mess. That wasn’t the case 20 years ago.

“Now we also see huge hailstones falling, weighing about half a kilo. And when it comes to heat waves, Italy seems to be split in two. From the north up to Rome it is fine, but further south of Rome, especially in Sicily, the weather becomes unbearable – it is almost desert-like there now. I don’t remember it being like this when I was a child.”

Flooding has become a problem in parts of northern ItalyFlooding has become a problem in parts of northern Italy

Floods in Emilia-Romagna cause chaos for residents of the region – getty

Interviewed by Kiki Deere

“It was always warm, but we didn’t suffer from these intense heat waves”

In Split, Croatia, retired fisherman Frane Dorić (80) and retired actor Boris Ugrin (85) meet every morning for a cup of coffee or a cold beer.

Frane Dorić says: “Climate change is difficult to evaluate. When we were young we didn’t wear shoes, we walked barefoot in the summer and the pavement was always very hot. It’s different when you’re young. My childhood gave me so much joy.

“We didn’t have air conditioning or heat. Or refrigerators. That started in the 60s and in the beginning, very few people had them. Instead, we stored food in a cooka box made of a wooden frame covered with a fine net, so that flies could not enter it, but the air could pass through.

“In the 1950s, in the summer, we transported huge blocks of ice, one meter long, in boxes, by steamboat to the island of Brač. People loved it, when we got there it was like God had arrived – they threw a party and gave us free beer.

“As a fisherman, I went out to sea every day at 5-6 in the morning, regardless of the weather. In those days, we didn’t have weather forecasts. We knew ourselves, and especially the fishermen, how to predict the weather. There used to be more fish, that’s for sure. In the summer, the fish market was only open from 7 to 8 in the morning. There were inspectors who closed the market if they saw that the fish might not be fresh anymore. We also dried fish, hung it outside, like tabinja (similar to cod) and we would salt sardines to preserve them in barrels.

“We’ve always had summer thunderstorms that occasionally caused flooding. But we’ve never had droughts like this before.

“Split is supported by three mountains. Diocletian [Roman Emperor from 284–305AD] traveled a lot and had many advisors, and he chose this location [to build his palace]. The climate is good. It is always hot in summer, but we get a gentle breeze from the sea, “s mora” they call it on the islands, which is cool and refreshing. We used to get more snow in winter here in Split too – in 1956 it was very deep, about 50 cm.

“Are humans causing the heat waves we are seeing now? I think so. Everything that goes into the atmosphere is toxic. That’s why richer countries are now turning to solar and wind energy, which are cleaner, but still expensive. I’ve thought about putting a solar panel on my roof myself, but they cost about €15,000 (to buy and install) and take about ten years to pay for themselves.”

Boris Ugrin says: “I believe the experts. It was always warm, but we didn’t have these intense heat waves, like this year and last summer.

“When I was little, we didn’t have air conditioning. Mother would cover us with a wet sheet when we went to bed so we could sleep. The roads were asphalt, not tarmac like we have now, and in the summer, when it was hot, the asphalt would melt and you would stick to it when you walked.”

In the 1950s, retired fisherman Frane Dorić transported one-meter blocks of ice by steamboat to the island of BračIn the 1950s, retired fisherman Frane Dorić transported one-meter blocks of ice by steamboat to the island of Brač

In the 1950s, retired fisherman Frane Dorić transported one-meter blocks of ice by steamboat to the island of Brač

Interviewed by Jane Foster

“The council is concerned about the water supply”

Brian Chatterton, a former agriculture minister, moved from Australia to Umbria in 1990

'What we have is more extremes': Brian Chatterton'What we have is more extreme': Brian Chatterton

‘What we have is more extremes’: Brian Chatterton

“I didn’t intend to become a farmer, but the residents of the small hamlet where my wife and I lived refused to let us neglect the olive trees on our property, so we took on the challenge.

“In general, there has been little change in the amount of rain. What we have is more extremes. Rain comes at unexpected moments. A few years ago there was a terrible November when we simply could not go out to pick the olives. More and more often it comes down with such force that it just runs off instead of soaking into the ground.

“These new weather patterns – combined with erosion caused by farming practices that have a dangerous disregard for the soil’s needs – are changing the way Italy looks. Sunflowers are such a staple of the Italian countryside. But they grow in July and August using the moisture from spring showers that is held by the soil. No soft spring rain, no moisture, no sunflowers.

“Further north, in the Po Valley, climate change is changing the landscape in similar ways. One year, the river is so low that the sea flows back into the riverbed; the next year, the Po floods and the banks are washed away. Those vast green rice fields along the river are disappearing. And where are northern Italians going to get their risotto rice?

“The average temperatures are also rising every year. Everyone feels that. And we seem to accept the higher temperatures as normal. My contacts tell me that the regional council of Umbria is concerned about the domestic water supply. In what is known as the “green heart of Italy”, water is pumped from aquifers to homes: if these decrease, storage becomes a problem.”

A characteristic green Umbrian landscapeA characteristic green Umbrian landscape

A typical green Umbrian summer landscape – getty

Interviewed by Anne Hanley

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